Head in Sand over WWF Report!

The World Wild Fund's report on New Zealand's environmental record since the 1992 "Earth Summit" in Rio paints a bleak picture. There has been little to no progress made in all the areas covered and a general deterioration has occurred instead.

I have written a summary of the report and included my own perspectives:


The New Zealand Government committed to "Stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Since 1992 our emissions have steadily increased across the three key areas of agriculture, industry and transport.

For a country of low population and numerous possibilities for renewable energy, the government has a bizarre fixation with fossil fuels. The worst of all of these is lignite and Solid Energy's plans to utilize the lignite in Southland to produce urea and diesel will potentially increase our emissions by around 20%. Too much of our industry is powered by coal, with many businesses finding it a cheaper energy source than electricity and Fonterra's largest dairy factory in Edendale even uses lignite.

Agriculture produces our highest emissions of greenhouse gases and the rapid increase in intensification, especially in dairying, has not helped. Continually delaying the inclusion of farming in the ETS has not provided a strong incentive for the industry to make useful changes or invest heavily in research.

The Rio commitment to "Implement transport strategies for sustainable development...so as to improve the affordability, efficiency and convenience of transportation..." seems to have been forgotten with the government's $12 billion commitment to building motorways rather than properly supporting the growing demand for public transport and improving our rail systems. Transport emissions have steadily increased since 1992 and encouraging the use of cars and trucks will not reverse this.


The decline in the quality of our water has received more attention as the effects are more obvious. The intensification of farming and increasing levels of irrigation to support it has revealed stresses on what many thought was an abundant resource. Southland has recognized the water crisis more than many provinces, with the Southland Times identifying water quality as the most important issue during the 2011 election. Around 80% of Southland rivers are significantly polluted, an internationally regarded wetland is about to flip, water resources are fully committed in some areas for irrigation and water shortages are now common during Summer months. Environment Southland are struggling to use the Governments new water rules which have no sense of urgency to deal with the enormity of the problem.


New Zealand also agreed to "Reorient education towards sustainable development, increase public awareness and promote training". One of the first initiatives when the National Party became government was to wipe funding for Enviroschools a hugely successful programme that was being widely supported by many schools. Although some funding has been restored in the latest budget, this is obviously not a high priority.

Sustainability is also an important part of our New Zealand Curriculum but the introduction of National Standards, and the heavy focus on literacy and numeracy,  has seen a decline in the teaching of science and technology where sustainability would be naturally taught. With the sacking of all science and education for sustainability advisors, the professional support for the teaching of sustainability has been effectively removed.

The new strategy for Tertiary Education has no environmental priorities and the government has abandoned the existing programme of action for sustainability.


Current rates of species extinction is said to be at a level of 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than they would naturally be because of human interventions and the loss of biodiversity is a global crisis. New Zealand used 10 indicator species to assess our own biodiversity status and seven of these were already threatened. At this point 6 of the seven threatened species are in a worse position than they were, with an average 42%  decline in numbers.

The government has cut funding to our border security which threatens not only our indigenous species from exotic invasion but our agriculture industries as well.

The loss of habitat through agricultural intensification is a major issue for our aquatic species with a lowering of water quality and increased irrigation. Native freshwater fish such as trout and eel are declining in numbers and many are verging on extinction.

The severe cuts to DoCs budget and their staffing has compromised their ability to manage and protect our large conservation estate and rather than focus on protecting our native species the government has introduced commercial imperatives that are beginning to dominate management.


New Zealand controls a marine environment 20 times larger than its land mass and while there have been a number of marine reserves created they are only a small fraction of the total (around 7%) and have limited ability in reversing the decline of marine species. Maui dolphins are bordering on extinction, sea lion populations are declining, Southern Right Whales are struggling to maintain numbers and two thirds of our seabird species are threatened with extinction. The main threats to all of these are because of modern fishing practices that have high levels of bycatch and poorly managed fishing quotas. It has been recognized that our fishing industry needs greater monitoring and that there are abuses of our territorial waters by overseas fishing boats. The fact that only half of our coastal patrol ships are in use because of navy staffing cuts is a major concern.

Of the 119 fish stocks that are monitored 37 are below target levels and the proportion of over-exploitation of stocks more than doubled between 2006 and 2010.

Environment Minister, Amy Adams, claims the report gives a misleading picture but offers little in the way of rebuttal. Most of the information has been widely known and reported and I would have thought  that the odd chat with the Government's knowledgeable Environment Commissioner, Dr Jan Wright, would have ensured the Minister was better informed.

It is obvious that this National Government has no interest in protecting biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions or even advancing our clean green image (I have heard that they are promoting the idea of just removing the first two words of our brand "Clean Green New Zealand" and think just "New Zealand" is enough). Their sole focus is ensuring immediate corporate profits and balancing the budget with no thought to the longer term sustainability of our economy. Our environmental protections are seemingly the first to be sacrificed if there is a financial squeeze and yet as Russel Norman continues to remind us, "No Environment, No Economy". We are close to losing much of our environment and biodiversity and the impacts on our economy will be enormous.

For National to put their collective fingers in their ears and hum loudly as each damning environmental report is released just doesn't cut it any more!.


Alex said…
I saw that report and was planning on blogging it, but you have done an excellent job so I won't bother. The report is truly awful reading, it is incredible to try and conceptualise the damage wrought on the ecosystem and biodiversity by our actions. One way I try to explain it to people is like this:
Imagine a society where, for whatever reason, every single accountant suddenly disappeared. The next day, every single bus driver also disappeared. The day after that, every single teacher also up and vanished. How long would society function without these occupations?
Species loss operates on a similar principle. The ecosystem can survive the reduction of animal numbers, but because of the interconnected nature of ecosystems the wider system cannot survive the loss of species. Every species fills a unique role within the ecosystem, and without them the whole system begins to unravel. We need to start understanding our impact on the biosphere is just as important as any events within human society, because at the end of the day, we too are a species within our ecosystems. Therefore, if too many species are lost to extinction, thats it for us too.
bsprout said…
I agree, Alex, this government doesn't realize that even small legislative changes can have unintentional and damaging consequences. This is a post I wrote some time ago on the consequences of wielding power without a sense of responsibility: http://localbodies-bsprout.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/power-responsibility.html

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